Actors portray a scene during the Trail of Tears Drama, which took place at the Cherokee Heritage Center’s amphitheater from 1969 to 2005 in Park Hill, Okla. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO

Cherokee amphitheater once Trail of Tears Drama site

Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. COURTESY PHOTO The Trail of Tears Drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage. The play depicted the struggles of Cherokee people on the Trail of Tears and when they arrived in Indian Territory. COURTESY PHOTO An audience attending the Trail of Tears Drama in 1989 listens to pre-show entertainment. The drama opened in 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. COURTESY PHOTO
Dancers hold aloft a Phoenix Dancer during the Trail of Tears Drama, which opened in 1969 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill, Okla. The summer drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff and was written by Kermit Hunter. COURTESY PHOTO
BY WILL CHAVEZ
05/29/2013 07:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tonia Hogner Weavel is an alumna of the original Trail of Tears Drama that began playing in June 1969 in an amphitheater built especially for it at the Cherokee Heritage Center. She was the principal dancer for it in 1974 and 1976.

Weavel, who is now the CHC’s education director, said the drama opened with about 75 actors, techs and support staff. It was written by Kermit Hunter and continued the dramatic story performed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians titled “Unto These Hills,” which is still shows today in Cherokee, N.C.

“It (“Unto These Hills”) was the first half of the removal, and ours was after we (Cherokee people) reached Indian Territory,” she said.

In an unusual twist, Weavel said the amphitheater where the drama was performed until 2005 was designed to fit the script. “Usually the theater is built and you just work with what you have but in this instance the theater was designed to fit the show.”

Charles “Chief” Boyd, an architecture graduate at the time, designed the amphitheater after traveling to New York City to research ideas with CHC co-founder Col. Martin Hagerstrand. The theater was designed using a “thrust stage or extended into the audience,” was steeply graded and fan-shaped.

“It was built to form an intimacy with the play. Even though it was a great outdoor amphitheater, it was designed to be as intimate to the stage as possible,” Weavel said.

The audience was never more than 75 feet from the stage, she added. And because of the steepness of the amphitheater, an audience of 1,800 could look down on the stage and actors.

“There was not a bad seat in the house, literally. For the most part you didn’t miss anything in any seat in the house,” Weavel said.

At the back of the main stage was a “mountaintop” with natural foliage. Behind the stage were dressing rooms. The stage had nine places for scenes and there were revolving stages on each side of the main stage.

Another impressive feature was it was the first outdoor theater with an air-cooled stage. On the stage sides were air-conditioning vents that blew across the stage, which Weavel said was necessary on hot nights.

Also, the stage’s design and theater served another purpose. Weavel said in the old days of the theater, actors did not use amplification devices to project their voices and needed “theater voices” that could project to the back of the stage.

“So we didn’t use any kind of microphone system because the theater was built in such a way as to carry the sound up,” she said. “We did have music and we did have narration, so there was a sound system.”

Later, actors used wireless microphones when they became more available and easier to use.

“The theater was a grand place. It was at a time when the technology we have today was not in place, so our entertainment was self-imposed. Like the drive-in theater that has gone by the wayside, amphitheaters have done the same. It’s much easier to sit in your air-conditioned home and dial up a movie on Netflix...than it is to take the effort to get in your car and go sit out in maybe 95-degree heat and make the effort to go see a show,” Weavel said.

She said ultimately that is why the drama stopped. Dwindling attendance along with the cost of putting on the drama made it impossible to continue.

“One thing that has not died is the people’s memories and their experiences with the Trail of Tears Drama from 1969 until it closed in 2005. It set wonderful memories and it allowed people to learn more about Cherokee culture,” she said.

will-chavez@cherokee.org


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BY STAFF REPORTS
09/29/2014 02:31 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Heritage Center was recently named one of the top three Native American experience destinations in the United States, according to USA Today’s 10Best.com readers. New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo and Taos Pueblo took the first and second place positions respectively with the CHC taking the third. “We are thrilled to be in the top three of such an exceptional list of nominees and are honored to represent Oklahoma on the list,” CHC Executive Director Dr. Candessa Tehee said. “We welcome visitors to experience all we have to offer at the Cherokee Heritage Center, where our mission is to promote and teach Cherokee history, heritage and culture.” The CHC offers exhibits and provides learning experiences about the Cherokee people and their history. The location also offers the living exhibit Diligwa, which was created to replicate how life was in the 1700s for Cherokees. “I’d like to commend the staff for all their hard work, which has resulted in Cherokee Heritage Center being named one of the best Native American experiences in the country,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “This reinforces Cherokee Nation’s position as a major tourist draw, where people can visit our capital and learn about our rich culture and history.” According to a CN Communications press release, all nominees for the categories were selected by a panel of experts, which were of a combination of editors from 10Best.com, editors from USA Today, relevant expert contributors and others. All contest voting is conducted digitally. The 10Best Readers’ Choice Award contest can be found at 10Best.com. “USA Today is thrilled to have this method of sharing what 10Best and USA Today readers and users love most,” USA Today Travel Media Group President John Peters said. “Our readers are well-informed, well-traveled and opinionated. At the end of the day, content on our platforms is a reflection of them. A destination, organization or business that finds itself the recipient of a 10Best Readers’ Choice Award has really accomplished something.” According to the press release, 10Best.com works to provide its users with unbiased, original and experimental travel content of top restaurants, attractions and things to do and see in the U.S. and around the world. The sites main content comes from its group of travel experts, who know much about their field and the cities they live in and write about. 10Best.com saw more than 700,000 monthly visitors, which produced approximately 28 million page views in 2012. USA Today later acquired the site in 2013. The Top 10 Best Native American Experiences list can be accessed at <a href="http://www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-native-american-experience" target="_blank">www.10best.com/awards/travel/best-native-american-experience</a>. For more information, call 1-888-999-6007 or visit <a href="http://www.CherokeeHeritage.org" target="_blank">www.CherokeeHeritage.org</a>.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
09/24/2014 11:40 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Arrowheads, spear points and cutting tools along with jagged pieces of flint rock surround the working area of Diligwa Village Lead Noel Grayson as he explains how to make stone tools using methods passed down for generations. “You have to remember it was tools. If you were a flint knapper you were making tools,” he said. “First and foremost, to make stone tools you have to have stone that knaps, stone that chips off in a sharp edge. What we are going to use are called flint rocks.” He uses the base of deer antlers to hammer away larger pieces of flint rock and then used the tips of the antlers as “pressure flakers” to remove smaller flakes from the rock he is fashioning into a tool. He also uses a “hammer stone” that doubles as a grinding stone to grind off the edges of the tools he makes. “This (flint rock) is all over Cherokee County, but you have to search to find stuff that will work,” he said. In the Cherokee County area there is gray, white and dark blue flint. Grayson, of Tahlequah, said they all “behave” differently, and some flint in the area is too chalky to use. “Chalky flint doesn’t flake good. You want slick flint, stuff that is just as glassy as you can get it,” he said. When he finds the flint rock he wants to use, he buries it under a fire using sand, ashes or dirt as buffer between the fire and rock. “It’s going to change the structure of the rock and make it a lot easier to flake,” he said. “You have to be able to read the rock; you have to be able to see the cracks that are in it. You do not want cracks.” [BLOCKQUOTE]Another essential tool for flint knapping is “a good, thick piece of leather” to protect yourself as you knap the sharp flint rock on your thigh. “This stuff comes off with a razor sharp edge,” Grayson said. He also recommends wearing glasses or goggles because small pieces of flint have been to known to lodge in a person’s eyes as they strike the rock. As he begins to shape the a large piece of flint rock by striking it and knocking larger pieces off with his hammer stone, he continually looks for a spot to hit on the rock. He explained he wants to remove the “bad material” on the rock and begin getting a sharp edge. “If you can do this, you’ve made a stone tool because now you have a sharp edge to do your cutting with,” he said. “I will go around the entire thing removing these flakes. What I’m doing is actually carving a rock by flaking it...until I work this thing down. In the end, what I’m hoping for is just a big blade.” He said numerous stone tools may come off of one large piece of flint rock. Smaller pieces that are knapped off of the flint can be used to make smaller arrow point or cutting or scrapping tools. He added making small points like arrowheads is good practice for learning how to flint knap. After creating a “big blade” or spear point, he uses the hammer stone to grind down the sharp edge to because sharp edges shatter when struck. He emphasizes a flint knapper has to continually grind the flint rock’s edges as he knaps it down to a blade or point. “That is why you grind; the increase your ability to flake the stone,” he said. Grayson added he wants the flint to be sharp in the end, but he doesn’t want to risk shattering it completely before he can work it down to length and width he wants. After grinding the flint, he hits it again with the hammer stone always searching where to hit the flint next. “Every time you take a flake, look at it and see what happened. Don’t just sit on there and beat on it. Take your flakes off individually,” he said. After getting rid of larger flakes, he uses the tip of a deer antler and applies downward pressure to flake off smaller pieces and then continues to grind the flint, hammer it, and shape it until it is finished. “What you want to do is rough it into shape, and then you can do the rest of it with pressure (using the point of a deer antler),” he said. In the past stone tools were not thrown away when they became dull, Grayson said. Their edges were sharpened again and the tools were used “to the point of exhaustion.” The 47-year-old has officially worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for five years but explained he has been working or volunteering at center since he was in his 20s. During that time he has shared his knowledge of flint knapping, bow and arrow making, how to brain-tan animal hides with many students. “I’ll teach anybody. I’m a recognized master at this within the Cherokee Nation. They’ve bestowed me the Living Treasure award because I do stone tools,” he said. “If anybody is interested in it, I will show them.”
BY WILL CHAVEZ
09/23/2014 07:42 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Danielle Culp of Claremore, Okla., is excited about finger weaving. You can hear it in her voice as she explains her finger weaving journey and how she continues to learn more about the craft. Culp has a finger weaving business where she makes custom, colorful belts using yarn. She is also a basket weaver, a pottery maker, traditional storyteller and sings and composes songs in Cherokee, but her main focus is on finger weaving. “I’m a dabbler. I like to do a lot of different things,” the Cherokee citizen said. She prefers finger weaving more than her other interests because there’s not many Cherokee finger weavers, and the art form doesn’t get a lot of attention. She said she would like to bring more attention to traditional Cherokee finger weaving. To be a successful finger weaver takes patience, Culp said. “You can do finger weaving any where. You can tie it (yarn) to a tree branch, you can tie it to a chair; as long as you have a post, you can do finger weaving,” she said. “You just need yarn and a lot of patience.” She explained when she finger weaves belts for people she wants them to choose their own designs and colors, so she rarely pre-makes belts and instead customizes belts for her customers. Depending on the design of the belt, the width of the belt, and the width of the person, a belt can take eight to 40 hours to complete, she said. “So you have to like doing the same motion over and over again and have a lot of patience so that if you do make mistakes you can go back and fix them,” she said. Currently, Culp weaves only belts, but she said finger-woven purses can be made. She said she admires the work of fellow Cherokee artist Karen Berry who finger weaves purses. “I haven’t branched out. I take a lot of personal orders for belts, and I’m actually back ordered right now, so I don’t have a lot of time to branch out and create other projects. My big focus right now is just belts,” she said. Culp said there are drawings from the 1700s of Cherokee men wearing finger-woven belts, and only men wore the belts, tied around their waist, during that time period. Before trading with Europeans for yarn and fabrics, Cherokee women would have used plant fibers like those found inside Mulberry tree bark to make belts. The fibers would have been twisted together to make strands that were dyed before being woven into a belt, Culp said. When trade began with Europeans, Cherokee women began using wool yarn that was already spun and dyed, which was much easier for them. Today she goes to a local crafts store to buy wool, acrylic or cotton yarn for her belts. For art shows, she said she has to use wool yarn. “I prefer acrylic yarn, but I do use wool when people request it,” she said. Filling orders for belts allowed her to make extra money while attending Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. “I could do it on my own time; I could do it in my dorm room. It did help put myself through college, and it’s also helped me make some spare money on the side,” she said. When she was 15, Culp took part in a Youth Leadership Institute seminar and one of the classes she took there was finger weaving that was taught by Cherokee citizen Wade Blevins. “We learned how to do the diagonal pattern. I’m kind of like a sponge. I like to soak things up, so I was really intrigued by finger weaving,” she said. “I got a book, and I learned how to do other designs. I did learn my first design from Wade, but I taught myself the other designs through books that I found. There are different designs you can do, and there are definitely different levels." She said it’s a constant process of learning how to finger weave. “You learn a lot of different things about finger weaving the more and more you do it, so even though I have been doing it almost 10 years, I learn something new every day.” She recently began studying open-face weaving, which is the oldest form of finger weaving done by the Cherokee people, she said. She recently completed her first belt and garter set using open-face weaving or a single weave. Cherokee artist and Executive Director of the Cherokee Heritage Center Candessa Tehee taught Culp this type of weaving. Tehee is a self-taught finger weaver. “I really love to finger weave, and I really love to teach people who want to learn,” Tehee said. “I have been researching and looking at older styles of finger weaving, and I noticed to do the patterns and styles that I want to do, I would have to learn how to do oblique or open-face weaving. It wasn’t something I knew how to do, so I picked up a book and figured it out. Once I figured it out I immediately began practicing it.” She added she then met Culp and saw that “she had a huge love of finger weaving.” She showed Culp how to do open-face weaving and taught her that open-face weaving is the only way to add beads to a belt design to add color. “Knowing there are other people out there keeping this tradition alive is really exciting,” Tehee said. Culp has worked at the Cherokee Heritage Center for three summer seasons. During her first summer she learned how to make pottery. During the last two summer seasons she has been a tour guide and the principal finger weaver in the Diligwa Village, which is a Cherokee village set in the early 1700s. “It was really nice to have that job because I could finger weave, and I could educate people that visit our Heritage Center from all over the world about our traditional textiles,” she said “It also gave me the opportunity to teach other people. So over the past two summers I taught five to six girls how to do finger weaving.” Culp said it was instilled in her to pass on the knowledge she receives from other artists. She added she tries to instill in the girls she teaches that they also need to pass on their knowledge of finger weaving. “If I’m a finger weaver and I finger weave the rest of my life and I don’t teach anyone else, I really don’t leave a legacy. I can leave beautiful belts behind, but when I pass on there’s no one else to fulfill that legacy,” she said.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/18/2014 03:21 PM
MUSKOGEE, Okla. –Conservationists recently joined forces to clean and preserve Native artifacts, art and archives at Bacone College’s Ataloa Lodge Museum during a recent artifact and art preservation event weekend. The three-day weekend event was funded by the Oklahoma Heritage Trust and the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and Museums and had a team of fine art, paper, basket and textile conservators. The conservators observed the various collections, performed minor conservation treatments, re-housed items with other materials, which met museum and archival standards, and constructed a plan for future care of the items. For more information about the project or to contribute to the maintenance of collections at Bacone College, call 918-781-7223.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/17/2014 11:37 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 2-3, students will have the opportunity to interact at the Cherokee Heritage Center and learn about Cherokee history as part of Ancient Cherokee Days. “This is a great opportunity for children to learn about ancient Cherokee life in a fun, interactive way,” CHC Education Director Tonia Weavel said. “When they leave Cherokee Heritage Center, they will have a better understanding of what life was like for Cherokees 300 years ago.” The event is set in an outdoor classroom setting for students in grades kindergarten through 12 and is for public, private and homeschooled children. The event is primarily held inside Diligwa, which is the CHC’s authentic recreation of Cherokee life in the early 1700s. There are many Cherokee cultural learning stations available throughout the grounds that feature chunkey, marbles, stickball, blowguns and language. The outdoor cultural classes also feature interactive curriculum and games centered on Cherokee lifestyle in the early 18th century, including craft demonstrations in pottery making, basket weaving, food grinding, weapons or tool making and language. Admission to Ancient Cherokee Days is $5 per student. Accompanying adults are free. Face painting, which represents Cherokee tattoos from the early 1700s, is offered at $1 per design. Admission also includes tours of the Cherokee National Museum, the Trail of Tears exhibit and Adams Corner. Picnic tables are available for guests bringing lunches. The CHC has ample parking for school buses and private vehicles. The Murrell Home, one-half mile south, has additional picnic and playground areas. Registration for Ancient Cherokee Days begins at 9:30 a.m. The event will occur rain or shine, with an established curriculum in place for inclement weather that allows students to continue to enjoy the stations. For more information, call Weavel at 918-456-6007 or email <a href="mailto: tonia-weavel@cherokee.org">tonia-weavel@cherokee.org</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
09/15/2014 04:04 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Four Cherokee Nation citizens were given the designations of Cherokee National Treasure during an Aug. 28 ceremony in the Sequoyah High School gym. “Our 2014 awardees all exemplify the values that we hold dear as Cherokee people and they advance our culture in their respective disciplines,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “Each and every one of these honorees deserves our deepest respect and gratitude. Their positive influence propels us all, as Cherokee people, forward.” David Comingdeer was named Cherokee Nation Treasure for his stickball stick making. He has been crafting his handmade sticks for 22 years from hickory wood that he cuts and then shapes using heat to make the wood flexible. He said he takes great care to perpetuate the art in the ways of his ancestors. Comingdeer’s family has lived in both Adair and Cherokee counties since their arrival in Indian Territory. He resides in the community of Spade Mountain, where he cultivates a pine tree plantation. Comingdeer is of the Paint Clan and is a member of the Echota Ground at Park Hill where he is head chief. He and his children have an active ceremonial life and spend much of their time traveling to ceremonial stomp dances across eastern Oklahoma. A lifelong resident of the CN, Clesta J. Manley was born on her father’s allotment land on the banks of the Grand River. For 30 years, Manley has shared Cherokee culture and art with the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club where she encourages members to learn more about history and culture. She started drawing at age 9 and continues to paint in a variety of media. Manley has participated in exhibitions throughout the state, won numerous awards, as well as a grant for a month to paint in Italy provided by the University of Tulsa Art Department. She has participated in juried shows at Philbrook Art Museum, Gilcrease Art Museum, Walton Art Center and the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show. Eddie Morrison, a native of Tahlequah, is a contemporary sculptor who has worked in wood and stone for 38 years. He is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. Morrison often uses red cedar in his works for the variations in color provided by the wood. Another favored material is Kansas limestone that he collects himself. Much of this limestone contains fossils from a prehistoric sea that once covered much of North America. These fossils are often visible in the rough portions of Morrison’s stone sculptures. Morrison’s works are featured at the Department of Interior Building in Washington, D.C., on the Chisholm Trail monument at the Kansas-Oklahoma border, as well as in permanent collections throughout the country. Cherokee language specialist John Ross is a native of Greasy and a translation specialist for the tribe’s Education Services. Ross previously worked as a research analyst and grant writer for CN Community Services and served eight years as chief and four years as treasurer for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Ross is bilingual and speaks Cherokee as a primary language. He serves as chairman of the Ethnobotany Publications board, which focuses on Cherokee cultural-environmental issues and is dedicated to the preservation of tribal environmental knowledge. Ross also serves on the Cherokee Elders Council. In 2013, Ross received the Perry Aunko Indigenous Language Preservation Award from the Greater Tulsa Area Indian Affairs Commission.